Maxine Kiss is the last of her kind, a tattooed Warden protecting the world from demons who pass through the Veil from their prison and take over human hosts to become zombies. Her tattoos are her protection – during the day they form her armour against all threats, while at night they slip away from her and become ‘the boys’, small demons who are inextricably linked with the female line of Wardens.
In The Iron Hunt, Maxine discovers that the Veil is falling as she investigates the death of someone trying to trace her – someone who knew her real name, and not the many pseudonyms that she gives. The threat of demons and worse coming through the Veil forces Maxine to use awesome powers that she has little understanding of or control over, and the whole world is at stake.
Marjorie M. Liu has created a disturbing, compelling and unique vision of a world spiralling into darkness. The tattooed Wardens are mysterious, and the manner in which their demonic protection hides in the form of tattoos during the day was genuinely fascinating to me. I adored the five demons who protect Maxine – they are terrifying effective as they eat the souls of demons, all spikes and attitude, but are also enormously cute as they purr like dangerous cats when Maxine offers them Snickers bars!
Liu’s prose is also hypnotic and lyrical, with poetically beautiful passages such as the following: “The demon tilted his head, just so, and his body twisted, flowing like the skim of a shark through water. He danced when he moved; on the city street, wrapped in shadows: a kiss on the eyes, a devil’s ballet, and only his feet moved, only his cloak had arms; and his hair, rising and flowing as though lost in a storm.”
Unfortunately, for me, the excellent premise of the novel and the delicious prose were ill-matched by a plot that stumbled and lurched from one incident to another. Half the characters were introduced with absolutely no discernable reason – those that did have a reason for joining the party were sketched so briefly that I didn’t care about them.
The plot was confusing – I know some writers who effectively carry their readers through moments of confusion, but Liu was not able to achieve this. I found myself more frustrated than thrilled, which is a great shame to me since I did feel that there was the bones of an excellent urban fantasy tale here. Perhaps now the scene is set, Liu will push on in the second novel of the trilogy (Darkness Calls) and ensure the plot moves more smoothly. I am tentatively willing to pick it up and give it a go, but it is most certainly not going to be at the top of my reading list.